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Vietnam and Watergate. The longest and most costly war in American history; Vietnam stemmed out of the Cold War and ‘Containment Philosophy.’ Many American leaders were WWII and Cold War veterans—they were determined to avoid another ‘Munich.’

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The longest and most costly war in American history; Vietnam stemmed out of the Cold War and ‘Containment Philosophy.’
  • Many American leaders were WWII and Cold War veterans—they were determined to avoid another ‘Munich.’
  • Unfortunately foreign policy initiatives for Southeast Asia was often incoherent and ambiguous—ended in tragedy.
American involvement begins back in 1945; the U.S. sent advisors to aid the Vietminh to oust the Japanese.
  • Ho Chi Minh wanted the U.S. to assist the Vietminh to unify all of Vietnam—It had been partitioned many years earlier during the first French occupation of Indochina.
  • Unfortunately the U.S., though anti-colonialism, allowed the French to re-establish its French colonial empire to ensure their participation in NATO.
58,000 American lives and over 300,000 wounded left a legacy of bitterness and much misunderstanding;
  • Many had psychological issues, but many—in fact there was 2x the drug and alcohol addiction problems than combat injuries by the end of the war;
  • Vietnam left a shattered generation and an inherent distrust of government.
Many in America changed opinions on America’s role in international affairs—many unrealistically wanted to be isolationists;
  • Changed from the last bastion to communism to ‘Live and Let Live.’ American exceptionalism was tarnished—until President Reagan restored patriotic fervor.
  • So, how did we get there? What were the lasting affects? And does Vietnam still haunt American policy and idealism?
vietnam time line
Vietnam Time Line
  • 1941—The Atlantic Charter—America denounces colonialism and promotes self-determinism;
  • 1945—Vietnam declares independence (100yrs Chinese, Japanese, and French occupation); Ho Chi Minh recites the declaration of Independence Sep 2 1945;
  • 1949—China falls the communist forces of Mao Tse Tung—America fears China communism is spreading into Indochina;
  • 1950—Sec of State, Dean Acheson declares that America will secure and protect the “Pacific Rim” against communist expansion; The Korean War suggests that Asia is becoming unstable;
1953—Korean Conflict stalls into a perpetual truce dividing North and South Korea; this instability enhances America’s resolve that Asia also must be part of the containment policy.
  • 1954—French are now engaged in a colonial-nationalist war with the Vietminh. Ho Chi Minh vows to fight for as long as it takes. The U.S. funds 75% of the French-Indochina War; France is humiliated by the Vietminh and Vo Nyguyen Giap at Dien Bien Phu;
  • 1954—Geneva Peace Accords partition Vietnam on the model of Korea—
1956--Eisenhower and CIA intervene to prevent free elections—fearing the communist will win a free election.
  • The Domino Theory is embraced; if Vietnam falls soon all the Pacific rim will collapse;
  • 1960—JFK pursues Vietnam initiatives to bolster a weak South Vietnam government
Why did JFK pursue Vietnam?
  • 1) Reassert American might after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the Berlin Crisis, and the Cuban Crisis;
  • 2) He was raised an ardent Cold War Warrior—saw Ho Chi Minh as a Soviet Pawn;
  • 3) Supported “Limited Brush Fire Wars” and containment;
Early on, I believe that America should have been in Vietnam—past experience was all we had to use as a litmus test—so Vietnam seemed logical;
  • Idealistic Americans early also believed that Vietnam was worth saving—Dr. Tom Dooley. He saw the tortured Vietnamese and doctored many back to health;
  • After the partition many North Vietnamese fled to the South seeking democracy.
JFK under CIA urging stepped up the commitment to train, supply and financially bolster Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime.
  • Diem, however, was very unpopular; an introvert, staunch Catholic, not a very good leader—His brother, head of the Secret Police, and his brother’s wife Madam Nhu, were anti Buddhists and anti-peasants—made things worse for Diem.
  • The catholic minority ruled ruthlessly over the ancient religious groups—especially Buddhists.
The Priests protested against the government;
  • LBJ as VP made a fact finding trip to Vietnam,
  • “Diem is the George Washington of Asia—he is a great leader …”
  • The Peasants and Buddhists thought otherwise—immolated themselves in protest.
Diem and Nhu were so unpopular, that the Vietnamese Military under the prodding of CIA – assassinated Diem and his brother;
  • This created a change of events of corrupt and inept leaders in Vietnam;
  • By 1964 it was obvious that this was going to be an American War—if the line in the sand was to be fixed in Asia—JFK bumped up the 750 advisors to 16000
The Tonkin Gulf resolution and Incident of 1964.
  • Ostensibly, America was running covert and clandestine interdictions into North Vietnam;
  • In response, the North Vietnamese sent out small gun boats to contest the the destroyers and interdiction--
President Johnson under very murky information called these so-called unprovoked attacks “ as devious as Pearl Harbor.” One can see the picture and emotions this reference conjures up.
  • To Johnson this was justification for direct military intervention;
  • The congressional resolution allowed LBJ to “take all necessary measures … to prevent further aggression [by the North Vietnamese]”
Johnson initiates Operation Rolling Thunder saturation bombing of the North;
  • Feb 3, 1965 the VC attack and kill 8 American advisors at Pleiku Airbase;
  • To protect American lives against physical aggression Johnson sends Combat Troops to Vietnam to secure and maintain security at the Air Bases—The Marines land at Da Nang Feb 1965
Marines and other Army Units immediately complain about the heat and being relegated to sitting ducks at these bases;
  • Finally Johnson gives the OK to ‘Search out and Destroy’ the enemy missions;
  • To take the countryside away from the enemy and pursue the VC aggressively.
“We marched into the Rice Paddies on that damp March afternoon, we carried, along with our Rifles and packs, the implicit convictions that the Viet Cong would be quickly beaten and we were doing something altogether noble and good. We kept our packs and rifles; our convictions we lost.”
There has been much exaggeration about the atrocities by U.S. soldiers on civilians;
  • 1) Racist theory—we considered them non-human so it was easy to inflict barbaric acts against them;
  • 2) frontier Heritage—we are by nature violent and inherently murderous—we just needed a war to act out on these impulses;
  • Hogwash—is there an element of truth—maybe—but overall what was it about Vietnam that made otherwise normal moralistic Iowans, Georgians, New Yorkers, or Californians sadistic and crass to the idea of humanity and compassion?
These observations and muses are by Sociologists and Psychologists who never experienced first hand war and its savagery; nor do they take into account how monstrous the VC, NVA and even ARVN could be to their own people.
  • The Korean Division took delight in cutting off ears etc … These academic ignore the years of barbarous warfare inflicted upon one another during the Chinese occupation and the First Indochina War with the French.
The evil was inherent in the circumstances of a bloody, hate filled civil war and social revolution—each trying to purge each other from the landscape; add the ferocity of Jungle warfare eliminating humanity;
  • Atrocities were almost a badge of honor long before the Americans arrived;
  • Twenty years of fratricide and ruthlessness obliterated any reference point of humanity;
  • The average age of the U.S. soldier was 19—In WWII, the avg age was 26.
I am not excusing My Lai or other atrocities, but I understand how ethical and moral lines become blurred;
  • Regardless of your moral compass—the compass spins losing direction when perpetually exposed to cruelty—and in a place where no mercy is given—No mercy is expected.
By 1968, 560,000 troops were in Vietnam.
  • The Tet Offensive changed the perception of the war; we thought we had control of the urban areas, but Tet proved otherwise;
  • Irony, VC were never able to amass another attack as they did at Tet; their infrastructure and ability to make war was destroyed; however, public opinion in America changed.
  • Now Mom and Pop America began to oppose the war; LBJ refused to run for office—Peace candidates popped up everywhere—the most credible was Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy—Nixon’s plan was phased withdrawal “Peace with Honor.”
Regardless of initiatives or what the Government said, the enemy controlled the countryside and at night—well the world belonged to ‘Charlie.’
  • This was the first truly mechanized war; also first televised war; Body counts were on TV each night while people ate their dinner;
  • Lack of frontline awareness and identity of the Good Guys or the Bad Guys—lines blurred egregiously, by 1970 the morale was bad—over 700 fraggings took place—and many refused to expose themselves in Combat—there were many more drug addiction cases or overdoses than there were combat injuries buy 1971.
There was much domestic opposition to the war; student deferments kept much of the Middle Class and Upper classes out of Vietnam—much resentment by Blacks and Poor Whites; especially by 1970—until 1970 more whites fought in Vietnam than the Press will admit—
  • after 1971, there were few left but Poor Whites and African Americans and Latinos
Domestically, The Anti-War movement was gaining ground; Tet proved the death knell to American support—some still supported the Troops, but many did not support the War;
  • It was not until Mom and Pop America began carrying signs around the White House that legitimate negotiations began—Not the ‘Counter Culture’ or SDS or any other Peacenik movement—good for TV, but reality, it made very little headway until after Kent State—Then, again, it was Mom and Pop America marching—’why are we killing one another?’
Staunton Lynd, Jane Fonda and Susan Sontag actually went to North Vietnam and posed for pictures to support the Anti-War Movement;
  • Sontag, “the North Vietnamese genuinely care about the welfare of captured American Pilots …they get more food than the actual Vietnamese people, they are larger, used to more and expect more, so we give them more … NVA believe in the goodness of man … and are morally concerned …”
Because of the political and social dissension in America, the 1968 Presidential election became a free for all in the streets in Chicago;
  • Democrats were split and this left room for Richard M. Nixon and his “Peace with Honor” and “Law and Order” platform to win the election
Nixon actually widened the war, invaded Cambodia and Laos, beefed up Bombing of North Vietnam—unlike Johnson, Nixon okayed the bombing of civilian targets and Haiphong harbor—in essence almost brought the war to an end—Hanoi was on its knees and teetering, but because they controlled their media – we did not learn this fact until the 1980s—
  • Tet and Nyguyen Hue offensives of 1968 and 1972 was all the VC and NVA had left—but Nixon was trying to get Hanoi back to the bargaining table—not concerned with winning the war—at this time …
Nixon did by 1970 begin ratcheting down Troop numbers, until in 1973 America completely disengaged from Vietnam—Yes some advisors and CIA personnel left, but in effect America was out of the war—POWs came home—some ague there are still those there—who really knows?
  • The aftermath of Vietnam, however, forces America to rethink its involvement: The brutal repression, torture and murders of South Vietnamese people by the victorious Northern Communists, the Boat People fleeing oppression, prison and death, Genocide in Cambodia and Laos and the Mekong delta region—Hanoi was absolutely ruthless enforcing their will and power over the southern peoples …
Strategically and tactically the U.S. failed;
  • “it was the wrong war and the wrong place at the wrong time, when we were losing we said we were winning … But as wrong as the war fought in Vietnam was in many respects, it was not wrong in the purposes and philosophy, for which it was fought.”
  • Being anti-communist was and remains the right attitude …
Nixon played on the attitudes of most of Middle America;
  • Tired of the war; racial strife, lawlessness and political chaos
  • Spoke of the “Silent Majority:”
  • 1) rising crime rates
  • 2) social violence
  • 3) drug abuse
  • 4) promiscuity
  • 5)no patriotism
Nixon appealed:
  • 1) Urban ethnic voters (Catholics, Italians, Irish and Polish descent)
  • 2) Blue Collar Workers
  • 3) Southern and Suburban Whites
  • Developed three strategies:
  • 1) appeal to the fears of the Blue Collar workers;
  • 2) exploit social issues that mattered to the Catholics
  • 3) exploit the conservativeness of the South
Though Nixon would be slow ending the war—and he did order secret invasion and bombing of Cambodia and Laos—he also initiated saturation bombing of the North and mined Haiphong harbor—he did end the war;
  • 1) He did withdraw troops from Vietnam
  • 2) he advocated and got the Russians to reciprocate in Détente. (a partial thawing to the Cold War)—initiated the “Five Policemen” concept to maintain global peaceful co-existence—and police other nations.
Policemen—U.S.; China; Russia; Japan; and Western Europe.
  • China invited America to a Ping Pong Tournament – “Ping Pong” diplomacy opened the door for Nixon to visit Chin and begin new open relations;
  • Realism—very populace country; markets etc
  • World Opinion—many agreed China should be recognized;
  • Bargaining Chip—Russia and China traditional enemies—two adversaries as allies frightened Russia;
4) Nixon could get away with it—strong reputation against communism—this is just politics;

5) Press Coverage—positive coverage for an election year—over look Vietnam and Watergate;

He also visited Russia:

  • SALT I missile limitation;
  • Cooperation with space exploration;
  • Better trade agreements between USSR and US
  • The Berlin Agreement of 1972.
Watergate was truly unnecessary; however, Nixon wanted a mandate a landslide—a show of love from the people;
  • Operatives called “Plumbers” bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Complex located in ‘Foggy Bottom’ on the banks of the Potomac. They were caught.
  • Woodward and Bernstein Washington Post pursued the story relentlessly—why were these common burglars carrying White House connections and credentials?
Nixon got his mandate, but he also had to appear to prosecute the Watergate Break-in; These were his guys, but he promised to pursue the burglars.
  • Mushroomed into a national Trial on TV—Sam Ervin led a host of Senators pursuing the truth or expose a suspected cover-up
By chance, Butterworth made an off-hand comment about what he had heard in these meetings—”well it should be on the Oval Office Taping system.”
  • Stuff hits the fan—all Oval Office conversations had been taped (not that unusual—these were secret tapings);
  • President refused to hand over the tape— “Executive Privilege. [national security]”
Huge battle between Executive, Legislative, and Judicial—Court said turn them over;
  • 18 mins were “accidentally” erased; The House began impeachment proceedings for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’
  • Nixon became very paranoid—Saturday Night Massacre—fired the special counsel and all the assistants; finally he had to resign
  • The OFFICE was BIGGER than the MAN!!!